Beg, Borrow, and Steal MFA in Filmmaking

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NEW YORK – I made three short films within this last year. Three. I didn’t plan to nor did I have the budgets to even do one, but I did it.

You see, when I don’t work for awhile I get nervous that I will never work again.  That was a huge motivator for Joan Rivers and why I still think her work is unparalleled to her colleagues. So, I enrolled in a class to learn new skills at the Manhattan Neighborhood Network here in New York back in 2016.  One class led to another and then to another and last Spring I finished my certification crash course of filmmaking in their 12 week documentary film course.  If you don’t know about this hidden gem of a resource for all TV and content creators, well I’m going to share a little secret about this institution.

Most classes are $25 for the ENTIRE class.   Yup, you read that right.  Classes are generally 2 or 4 weeks with a very limited amount of seats per class and they teach you the fundamental training on the latest editing software, how to produce a half hour or hour TV program and working in the field with television grade camera and sound kits.  You do have to be either a Manhattan resident OR work for a nonprofit that is based in Manhattan. Not Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx, yet they have their sister orgs that have similar proofs requirements that you live there to use their facilities. MNN also has 5 cable networks that constantly need content, so making a show for them is easy as long as you follow their spec format and public access rules with your content. Best part of this: you can create as little or as much content to host on their channels and keep ownership of what you make.

All you need to do is produce one show to be aired on their networks and help crew three times each year on other shows. Then you can use everything you are trained in as much as you like for FREE. “Wow, really? Where do I sign up?” Here.

I had still so much to learn about creating short form content that just being at the main hub working on shows helped me grow as an independent producer.  Since the education program is designed only to show you the basics, the real learning is by creating. So you really have to figure out what you like doing and go network with other certified producers.

I do have to say, I got really lucky with my “Graduating” Doc Class of 2017 (no one really graduates but we did celebrate with margaritas).  We had five amazing female filmmakers with varying degrees of experience who really shaped my time and perspective on making films.  Until then, I was only dabbling and soaking in what I could just in case I got too broke from the lack of acting work coming my way. It was the reason I jumped on the set of Copwatch as a PA. But seeing the way Camilla Hall and her crew work covering the story of Ramsey Orta and his final days of freedom before his prison sentence, it really opened my eyes to the deep dive of storytelling. It was the main reason I even signed up for the 12 week class.  I fell in love with filmmaking.

The ladies I was meeting were not only talented makers but incredibly supportive. I wanted more of this kind of community, so I immediately signed up on all the secret female filmmaking groups on Facebook. I am active in two that are paving the way of inclusion in our industry: NYC Women Filmmakers and Brown Girls Doc Mafia.  I spent months lurking and occasionally commenting or helping when I can, but when discussions came up that I had no idea what they were talking about, I would open another screen and Google the hell out of it just to keep up.  The difference in these groups is the amount of skill sharing and support that I did not find in groups that had a lot of hetero masculinity.  Sorry dudes, but you tend to rain on our parade A LOT. I always feel respected in the female lead forums and the amount of information we gift this community has been igniting in a way I have always dreamed our entertainment community could be. Yeah, I have all the feels with my #FemaleFilmmakers.  My biggest take away is the amount of sharing we give on funding grants, festival submission waivers or deadlines targeted toward our demographic and job offers. Iyabo Boyd, the founder of Brown Girls Doc Mafia, has been leading the charge with the mission of visibility at all the festivals. I had the honor of traveling with 40 members of BGDM to this year’s True/False Festival, which was a firsthand account of seeing the difference of us entering the spaces that have been predominantly male and white for a long time.   Our sisterhood of the traveling camera bag was strong and mighty, which spearheaded my mission of Always Creating.

My second short was in development for over 2 years and my angel funder/collaborator stroke while the iron was hot.  We shot it in a day. It was edited in a month. I won’t bore you with the details but we made the impossible happen: we strove for a story that was inclusive and was shot through the female lens. I can’t tell you how many people just questioned the concept alone and even told me that it wasn’t possible. I had one yes, which then led to more yeses giving us the means to make it.

Yeah, I probably won’t have the money or the patience to go through a proper MFA program ($80,000 a year is my annual goal just as a living person), so I decided to do the next best thing: make another short. Yes, I had to beg, borrow and steal for that shoot and you know what? It was so worth it.

So find your people. Create all the things. Just because one person says no doesn’t mean you should stop there. Whatever it is that you do, know that you are the creator of your own destiny and the only one marking this down on your permanent record is you. I use a day glow pink marker for mine.

Tanya Perez

About Tanya Perez

Tanya Perez is an actress, writer & activist currently living in NYC. Notable TV and film credits include Orange Is the New Black, Jessica Jones, Blue Bloods, Madam Secretary & Hal Hartley's Ned Rifle opposite Parker Posey. Her most notable stage appearances were in Seattle Rep's production of Anna in the Tropics, Sonia Flew at both CATF and Laguna Playhouse, and her sold-out solo show at the Downtown Urban Theatre Festival at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Comedy content creation has brought her web series Itty P & DJ Model-T nominations for two StayTuned TV-ITVF awards for Best Comedy and Best Actress in a Comedy, her comedy short, Peep Show, was an official selection at the 2018 Women in Comedy HBO Insider Competition, her short, Veronica, is up for 6 award nominations for the 2018 Story Mode Shorts Festival, winning Best Actress and will be premiering at Cannes 2018. She has received an Audioverse Award nomination in writing in Cocotazo’s CAT festival. Not only that, she is also incredibly talented with balloons, laughs inappropriately during movies, and loves her four-legged roommate Tia Tortilla. Proud member of NYWIF, Brown Girls Doc Mafia, SAGAFTRA & Actors Equity.